When the combine harvester empties fresh grains into a trailer at Sloping Hill Farm, something happens to Bea Graf.
“You should see her face,” said her husband and co-owner of the Qualicum Beach farm, Dirk Keller, as he tried to explain his wife’s elation.
“It’s one of the biggest rewards when you’re harvesting grain.
“Having fought all the odds of growing grains on Vancouver Island, and for human consumption, as far North as we are on the Island, there’s a very short window of harvesting, and oddities you have to fight to get to that point…it’s a major reward.”
Sloping Hill Farm is among four regional nominees for the We Heart Local Awards, a province-wide community driven awards program to celebrate the key players in the food and agriculture industry in B.C.
Residents of B.C. can vote for their favourites in the 15 categories by visiting www.facebook.com/buylocaleatnatural and clicking on We Heart Local Awards by August 5. Sloping Hill is nominated as a meat producer.
Graf and Keller grew up on family farms in Bavaria, Germany. After leaving home, they both worked long hours at well-paying jobs, Graf managing travel agencies and Keller in the printing industry. In 1993 they decided it was time to take a break and did an extended road trip through the United States and Canada. Vancouver was one of their favourite destinations, and when they returned home they couldn’t stop thinking about their time in Canada.
Germany was becoming overcrowded, the streets seemed too narrow and the shops were all closed by 6 p.m., Keller said. It was time for a change. So they packed up their belongings and headed to Vancouver.
Shortly after the couple moved to Victoria for work, and then settled in Nanaimo. With the idea of returning to farming lingering in their minds, they finally had enough land to start a small operation.
The couple began with a flower and berry farm, and then grew vegetables. They had some empty barns on their land, and decided to fill them with pigs because they had always liked the animals. But they were adamant they would not confine their animals to small quarters, and instead allowed them to roam freely, socialize and engage in instinctive behaviour.
Their customer base began to grow steadily and in 2001 they began selling their products at the Qualicum Beach Farmer’s Market. In 2005 they purchased land and moved their operation to Qualicum Beach. Today they sell their products around B.C.
The couple continues to work on the farm without assistance, seven days a week for up to 15 hours a day.
The pigs are heritage breed and aren’t fed any hormones, steroids or antibiotics. They give birth naturally and all have free access to the outdoors at all times. There is no teeth clipping, tail docking or ear marking.
“They have the greatest life,” said Graf. “They are born here, they don’t know any fear like when they come out of factory farms, this is so different.”
Everything the pigs eat is grown on the farm and Keller said the pork ends up with a superior flavour and texture.
The couple has won several awards for their pork including the Vancouver Restaurant Award for Product of the Year in 2009 and Producer/Supplier of the Year in 2010.
At the farm they also raise a small amount of chickens and they grow grains, with the addition of ancient grains this year. All products can be purchased at their Farm Gate store at 350 Parker Road in Qualicum Beach.
The grains at the farm are not processed or heated so that they retain all their nutrients. Graf said oats that people buy in stores have been treated and heated so they can be kept forever, but the majority of the nutritional value has been lost. Graf said it also affects the flavour.
“I think it tastes like day and night, the difference,” she said.
At Sloping Hill Farm they de-hull and flake their oats everyday, and they use cool mills to avoid heating. Graf said it’s this whole process that gives her such a feeling of satisfaction.
“For me, to plant a tiny little seed in the ground, watch it grow for several months, watch it get bigger almost every day, and now, like our spelt and emmer, almost as tall as I am, and changing colour from green to yellow, it is absolutely fascinating.”
Other local nominees in the We Heart Local Awards are Little Qualicum Cheeseworks for cheese production, Fanny Bay Seafoods for local seafood and Barbara Ebell as a local food advocate.
For more information on Sloping Hill Farm catch them at the Qualicum Beach Farmer’s Market Saturday mornings on Veteran’s Way, or call 250-752-0570 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.